Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America welcomed a speech by Mr. James Towey – director of the White House Office of Faith Based & Community Initiatives, and a position paper released by the White House renewing the Administration’s defense of religious liberties that have long been protected by the U.S. Constitution and civil rights laws, but have been heavily criticized as a means of opposing President Bush’s faith-based initiative.
Mr. Towey’s speech in Dallas this morning and the release of the paper, entitled “Protecting the Civil Rights and Religious Liberty of Faith-Based Organizations; Why Religious Hiring Rights Must Be Preserved,” seeks to rebut the rhetorical assertions made by some that efforts to ensure that religiously affiliated institutions are treated fairly and neutrally by government programs is fostering inappropriate “employment discrimination” on the part of these religious institutions.
In fact, as the paper documents, it has been a longstanding legal consensus that a fundamental civil liberty enjoyed by religious entities is their right to form their character by having as members only those who share a common set of beliefs. Following on the First Amendment’s guarantee of the Free Exercise of religion, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 codified this religious liberty – in a provision upheld by a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling – by recognizing that religious entities must be allowed to insist that its members and/or employees share its faith beliefs. (Secular institutions enjoy a similar constitutional right under the First Amendment’s right of Free Association.) [For more on the Union’s perspective on this issue, please read our op ed published by The Washington Post at https://advocacy.ou.org:443/
As stated on previous occasions by the Union’s director of public policy Nathan Diament (and included in the White House position paper) stated: “The Orthodox Jewish community…agree[s] with the President’s view that it is wrong to exclude faith-based social welfare agencies from government funded partnerships for no reason other than their faith character… Critical to this effort is the continued protection of the religious liberties afforded by the Constitution and civil rights laws to [them]… For only by protecting the character of these entities….can we leverage their unique capacities for the benefit of more Americans in need….”